Collaborations with Visual Artist Madge Evers

Part I: Who is your collaborator?

I’ve had the privilege of starting a collaboration with a visual artist whose work I greatly admire. Some years ago I wrote a poem inspired by one of Madge Evers’ pieces (“This is Your Hometown“) which was published in a special ekphrastic feature in the journal Literary North. Madge and I, each troubled by the events of the moment, have come together to share our thoughts and our art, to process, in a purposeful way. In this first installment below, my poem was the starting point and Madge responded to the words using gold gesso and the cyanotype process (creating images using UV light). Please visit Madge’s website to see these images in more depth and for more of her stunning work.

Kathryn Petruccelli

How to talk about tenderness?
My children rise past the mark
of “young,” strike against the pulse
of mornings dawning in war, while I
spoon silence between my lips
like a swallowed curse. I was foolish
to think by now I’d know what
to say, how to explain sudden turns
of demagogues, the fleeing of small bodies
like theirs, closed in wool scarves.
The windowsill above where I prepare
breakfast is littered with dead ladybugs.
They hatch in houses here, cluster
in sun through glass over winter.
When we first arrived, we tried
to save them all—useful beetles,
beautiful subjects of nursery rhymes,
their images flapping on flags
in tree-lined neighborhoods, odes
to spring. Now, turns in weather
too common to complain about,
small bodies go almost unnoticed,
could be mistaken for crumbs.


Part II: What makes sense in a senseless time is connection.

I was familiar with Madge’s depiction of a figure in a hoodie, a cyanotype she created in response to Samuel Getachew’s opinion essay (“You shouldn’t need a Harvard degree to survive birdwatching while black“) which appeared in the Washington Post in May 2020. But when I saw it remade into the piece here, one she calls “Cave Dwellers,” I was immediately struck with the idea that this “cave” was a vulva, and that the floral abundance layered onto it had something to say about the current news coming out of Ukraine.

Madge had initially posted this new art, with its ghost image from past projects, shortly after the war began with only the word “Peace” as its caption. I ran with that visual and that text and the result was the poem “The Deep Truth–.”

The Deep Truth—
Kathryn Petruccelli

after Madge Evers’ “Cave Dwellers”

Isn’t that what’s revealed
by the thing one sees first in image?
Candlestick or faces.
The old woman or the young one.
Tree’s silhouette or highlight
of animals. And what would become
of us if we couldn’t resee, remake?
The artist intended the shape
of a hoodie. But there, in indigo,
what floats to my eye—
dark cave ringed, fluted with flowers—
is vulvar. Layering and lips.
Purity and elegance.
The deepest place
we’ve been.
Watery crypt blooming
in threaded garden. Portal of creation.
Blue pool of fertility.
Wing and shell. Whorl and dell.

I cannot carry this morning’s news—
the girl in unicorn pajamas
piled with the others, forever
tucked in. Still, also true
is Queen Anne’s lace,
wild buckwheat. They don’t
erase this delicate death.
And yet, a field
of view for what else.
Birth. Rebirth.
Overflow of feathered stems
raised on sunlight, blessed
vision. Cradle. Nest. Crystal lattice
growing to protect
what’s within. The feminine.
Isn’t that what will vex
this warworld in the end?

With the above background in mind, this is in essence more than just a two-person collaboration; it’s an evolving conversation that began in Central Park and traveled to central Europe. In the end, however, the desire put forward in all the responses—the essay, the art, more art, the poem—is the same simple thing. It’s Madge’s original caption for “Cave Dwellers;” it’s peace.

Find your collaborators. Build peace.

Stay tuned…the collaboration continues…